I'm late on this one and it's been widely covered. But in case you missed it, I like Dan Carlat's blog posting
on the New York Times' revelation that:
Wyeth Pharmaceuticals engaged a medical writing company to produce 26 articles pushing Premarin as Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) in women from 1998-2005. The articles were outlined and written by writers employed by Design Write, and then were sent to top academics in the Ob/Gyn field, who reviewed them, rubber stamped them with occasionally minor edits, and submitted them to journals under their names. In no case was Wyeth's involvement in funding the articles disclosed.
In this case, since Premarin is a steroid, Wyeth put its own steroids on steroids. As with baseball players on steroids, when companies pour marketing money into ghostwriting campaigns, they change the rules of the academic game. The playing field is no longer level; the drug company's version of the truth gains the upper hand. Sometimes, their truth really is the truth, but sometimes it's a carefully crafted lie. Sorting it out is difficult even for physicians who specialize in the area being written about. It's essentially impossible for the average generalist physician, to say nothing of patients who did not have the advantage of attending medical school.
...Wyeth's spokesman said that "the articles on hormone therapy were scientifically sound and subjected to rigorous review by outside experts on behalf of the medical journals that published them."
Actually, the proper collective response from all of these participants should have been: "We sincerely apologize for having deceived the medical community by engaging in ghostwriting without disclosure. We have contributed to the erosion of the public's trust in medicine, and we regret it."
When I served on the University of Minnesota medical school task force making recommendations for changes in the school's conflict of interest policy, I was the one who recommended addressing ghostwriting. We'll see if it ends up in the final version.